Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Artistiya: Popular music and personhood in postcolonial Bamako, Mali
by Skinner, Ryan, Ph.D., Columbia University, 2009, 324; 3393606
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation examines the socio-cultural and historical contours of musical expression and identity formation in postcolonial Bamako, Mali, a sprawling West African metropolis on the upper Niger River. Specifically, this work engages with a particular community of urban artists—popular musicians—whose lives and works are locally glossed by the Bamana term “artistiya,” a neologism meaning “artist-ness,” which I define as “artistic personhood.” As a study of personhood among musical artists in Bamako, my work emphasizes the particular ethical and moral concerns that artists daily confront in a postcolonial society structured by clientelism, plagued by corruption, and burdened by poverty.

Mande peoples, the largest and ideologically predominant ethno-linguistic group in Bamako, place a premium on what's called “mògòya ,” or “ethico-moral personhood.” Mògòya entails a socio-cultural code of behavior that defines the person (mògò) through a dialectic of collective respect for cultural continuity and community and an individual ethic of social rivalry and individualism that inspires innovation through strategic breaks with mores and tradition. The ability to negotiate the polarities of this dialectic is characterized by “intelligence” (halkili), as in the proverb: mògòya ye hakili ye (personhood is intelligence). The inability or unwillingness to resolve this intersubjective (relational and dialogic) tension may result in socioeconomic alienation and interpersonal “shame” (maloya), the latter sentiment epitomizing the negative psychosocial effects of unethical and immoral behavior in Mande society. My research observes how popular musicians strive to intelligently—that is, morally and ethically—negotiate the social, economic, and political realities of modern life in postcolonial Bamako to produce a specifically “artistic” sense of personhood: artistiya.

The dissertation begins with a historical inquiry into the emergence of artistiya through periods of decolonization and nationalism in the Soudan Français and Mali, when artists enjoyed a high degree of state patronage, to present-day encounters with neo-liberal socioeconomic structures that have destabilized artists' relationships to state and society. Through ethnography, I examine how artists move beyond arguments about lost revenues and infringed intellectual property to affirm their “civic personhood” in the face of a radically informal economy in which “piracy” predominates; how they conceive and embody a “civil” ethics of live musical aesthetics to balance the exigencies of lifeworld and livelihood in a highly competitive urban culture economy; and how they affirm and cultivate a convivial ethos within their profession and local communities against an increasingly alienating and provisional postcolonial society. Throughout, I draw attention to the pressing politics and poetics of modern personhood in an African postcolony.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Fox, Aaron A.
School: Columbia University
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 71/02, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Cultural anthropology, African history, Music
Keywords: Bamako, Ethics, Mali, Personhood, Popular music, Postcolonial
Publication Number: 3393606
ISBN: 978-1-109-60481-8
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